- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2015 - 12:00am

Women still look at the universe as a university. We men look at most of adult life as recess. We seek vacation time from the merry-go-round whenever possible.

Another year rolls around, and that’s when people start taking stock of their lives and seeking to make improvements. And by “people,” I mostly mean women — and more specifically, my wife, who is on a continual journey of personal growth and self-enrichment.

She is studying French and Spanish at the moment on her iPad, articulating phrases such as “His shoes are brown” and “My dog has four legs” in Romance languages and being rated accordingly on her fidelity to the accents.

This seems like a lot of work to me, and indeed, to most males, who have perhaps one or two reactions to the oft-asked question, “What are you planning to do to improve yourself in 2015?”

One reaction is to act offended or evasive, and declare, hand to heart, “Why do I possibly need to improve myself?”

The other is to state an obvious difference between men and women, which is that women are way more interested in improving themselves. Women have a wonderful capacity to learn new things and become re-engaged with life. They still look at the universe as a University. We men look at most of adult life as Recess. We seek vacation time from the merry-go-round whenever possible.

They say women nest? Men take root. Our ingrained habits (good or bad) are more than enough to sustain us through a lifetime. Why change something that’s gotten you safely from sunup to sundown for most of your life?

We men don’t really like change, especially when we’re married. This kind of attitude often leaves our spouses drawing up to-do lists — for our benefit.

But it turns out we males may be programmed at the chromosomal level to resist change and growth. Truly. Science has found that the XY chromosome is, over thousands of millennia, getting shorter and shorter, whittling away through lack of adaptiveness — while the XX chromosome that dictates the female sex is actually thriving, learning to handle all the new challenges of the species, such as mastering Candy Crush. It makes you think… especially when you picture the average male, past a certain age, reluctant to get off the couch or alter his TV-viewing position. Adapt or die, indeed.


The whole self-improvement thing may be an extension of the dreaded New Year’s Resolution habit, but at least it tends to focus us on a positive outcome: learning a language, eating more healthily, or mastering a new skill.

Quite honestly, when my wife asks me what I plan to do to improve myself in 2015, I feel no desire to stick my hand in the lion’s mouth and ask: “Well, what exactly do you think needs to be improved about me?” I don’t need to, you see; I know my faults as well as she does. So no to-do list is required.

But there’s something else about men, which is that we already feel like we’re improving. Constantly. Every day we draw breath is a chance to demonstrate that we’re better and better. We give ourselves a pat on the back for taking a successful (or on rare occasions a truly monumental) dump. We think we deserve an award for driving around on a daily basis without hitting anything/anyone.

I want to say to my wife, “I am improving myself. Every time I pick up a book and read something new or interesting, or check something off the list of errands that need doing, or reliably turn up to pick up my daughter after school, or finish a meal without requiring the Heimlich maneuver, you can count that on the ‘plus’ side of the ledger. I have negotiated yet another day of life, with all its attendant dangers, distractions, deterrents and dilemmas, successfully. So I have to look at that as a ‘win.’”

Somehow, this does not overly impress her.

Another project my wife is passionate about in 2015 is simplifying our living space. Everything must go in 2015 — all the old books and clothes and boxes — something I’m actually in agreement about. She’s reading a book by a Japanese cleaner-upper who commands the reader to throw away anything in one’s midst that doesn’t “spark joy.” (It makes me wonder how many husbands get chucked out in the process.)

But the truth is, while not a neat freak, I’ve always clung to a modicum of cleanliness and order in my personal surroundings. I demand surface space on my desk. I figure I can’t change the world’s disorder, but I at least can lay claim to a certain square meter of space on which to rest my coffee mug. And this, I think, goes along with my male desire to not change things too much, or too drastically. I don’t like things piling up, beyond my control. I panic, a little, when things start filling my desk. I want the comforting presence of a neat surface, even if it’s only a limited space I’ve carved out in my corner of the world. The rest of my surroundings may look like a typhoon swept through, but that desk space is clear, damn it.

Hey. It’s the least I can do to make things better.

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